Santa Devi is 9 years old and goes to school, at least she is registered there. But Santa Devi is not a good student. Although she likes to recite the alphabet and to learn English words she is often too tired to concentrate in the classroom or to participate in the lessons. Before school she must fetch water from the well which is a long way down the gorge, and then cut and lay out grass for the goats, so that they have to eat throughout the day.
The hardest task is collecting firewood. She has to walk a long way because there isn't a single tree left in the village. Usually she and the other girls walk in small groups, for one and a half hours to the nearby hills, where they use their sickles to cut firewood from the bushes and trees. Then they have to carry the firewood all the way back hope. By the time they get back home the children are really tired.
The rain is really heavy this year. The river behind the village is wide and fast-flowing. Santa Devi and the other children can't wade through the river anymore to get to the hills. The firewood reserves run out quickly and in the damp weather the cow pats don't dry and so can't be used for the cooking fire. Soon the children have to spend half the day making a long detour to collect firewood.
As they approach the hill Santa Devi sees that there has been a land slide. The grass and bushes from the top of the hill have slid down. The landslide stopped just short of the school and the teacher's house. Other families were not so fortunate. Lots of people are running around in panic but no-one seems to have been buried under the landslide.
The children immediately start to help the villagers. They use their sickles to cut open the stalls and free the goats trapped inside. They cut away the brush that blocks the entrance to the school. They help a woman who has fallen and hurt herself. They bring the two water buffalos to a safer place. Santa Devi is usually afraid of these big animals; but today there is no time for that.
As the magnitude of the landslide becomes clear the villagers suddenly turn on the children in anger. One man shouts: “Go away! It's your fault that this landslide occurred. If you hadn't cut away so much wood this accident would not have happened!” The girls run away before they are beaten.
Santa Devi and the other girls run as quickly as they can along the bank of the raging river. It is still raining heavily and the children are soaked when they arrive home. Santa Devi cries in rage and exhaustion. What did that man say? She is responsible for the accident because she cut wood from the bushes? How can that be true? Every child knows that accidents like that are due to the spirits; and how can the spirits become angered by children cutting firewood?
The fire in the kitchen smokes terribly and doesn't burn well enough even to warm the Santa Devi's fingers. How will the family cook their rice this evening?
A week after the landslide in the village a meeting is held under the big Pipal tree. Six houses and two stalls were completely destroyed. Village meetings are always loud rowdy affairs as everyone has something to say. Usually they are boring for the children. This time however the children are the center of attention as Santa Devi's friends told their parents what had happened and their parents called for the village meeting.
Initially the parents wanted retribution for the insults to their children but the teacher spoke to them explaining the connection between collecting firewood, soil erosion and the land slide. Then he told them how they could cook with much less wood if they had a clay stove in their kitchen.
The monsoon is over. The warm winter sun feels good. All the bushes and trees are green and luscious. Once again it's easier to collect wood and the children’s memories of the landslide soon pale.
However the teacher brings the stove maker to the village and visits each house to inform the villagers of the advantages of a clay cooking stove. Santa Devi's mother is immediately enthusiastic and she is first to register to build a cooking stove.
The children squat by the stove building site and watch each move of the stove maker. They can hardly wait until the clay is dry and the oven can be heated. Santa Devi dreams of planting some trees before the next monsoon to placate the spirit of the forest.